progress is not the elimination of struggle, but rather a change in its terms’ - Aneurin Bevan

Who is writing the loser script?

or: why we should remember the past so that we do not repeat it

[this is an unfinished post]

On Remembrance Sunday, I spent a lot of time thinking about my uncle. He didn't die in a war, but he served during the Falklands war between Britain and Argentina.

Patrick was in the Navy. I think he saw bad things happen in conflict, but he would never talk about it. Apparently his dad, who served in the RAF, was the same. Didn't want to talk about it.

I never knew my grandfather - my mother's father - because he died before I was born. His name was Henry but he got called Harry. As a young man, he joined the forces because he was struggling to find work.

There was a particular reason he found it hard to get a job - Harry was from Belfast. As a Protestant married to a Catholic, life wasn't easy. Employers had sectarian hiring policies.

My grandmother told me when she first found this out. "I'd love to give you the job, but I can't." She had made the mistake of saying where she lived - a Catholic neighbourhood.

Serving in the armed forces meant that my grandfather could get work and provide for his family. It also meant he could get them out of a difficult situation. After he came out of the forces, he settled where he was stationed, in the North East of England.

Patrick joined the forces as a young man, just like his father. He didn't face the same kind of discrimination in England as his father had in Ireland. But there was anti-Irish racism because of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

I suppose the real reason for joining the Navy was to escape the mass unemployment of the time. And when Patrick came out of the Navy, he went into nursing. He helped people with impairments overcome their disability.

Patrick worked for the NHS until he had to take early retirement. He didn't want to stop working - but having an aggressive form of cancer gives you no choice. He was in his early 50s and full of life.

I recall as a child, Patrick telling his young son to repeat the following affirmation - "every day, in every way, I am getting better and better!"

This attitude was why Patrick shielded the pain of his illness from me.

When he was hospitalised, I would visit him and try and talk about anything other than illness. Music, films, anything.

He knew he was going, so he gave me what he had on this earth - his computer, DVDs, CDs.

Patrick gave me a laptop computer so I could type up the minutes of branch meetings. He also gave me an iPad.

But more about that later.

Life's what you make it?

Cosmic prankster Robert Anton Wilson pointed out: though we obviously don't choose the material conditions which are beyond our control, we can choose to write scripts in which we win or lose.

In his writing, he feeds you different views of reality, tests you to be a "model agnostic".

One minute, you believe the wild story he's telling you. Then he says it's rubbish and tells you another version of the story that contradicts the first.

Reading his books taught me to think carefully about how other people are interpreting events.

God bless him, Old Bob wanted to live forever. He didn't. But I imagine the pain of his final years would have been that much worse if he had accepted the hand he had been dealt.

His favourite Irish storyteller was Joyce. I must confess to preferring Beckett:

"Ever tried? Ever failed? Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

Now, this isn't a defeatist attitude. It's about accepting that not everything will be perfect.

So my uncle Patrick was saying stuff like "I'm alright" and "not to worry" right up until the end.

A mate of mine has had a similar form of cancer for a few years now. He has a similar attitude to life. Every time I see him I secretly think, "you're still alive!"

This is probably what we should think when we wake up every day. "I'm still alive! Take that, death."

As I've written about here, that isn't always easy for me. When I was warning about Labour facing Pasokification, this could sometimes be taken the wrong way.

Not Safe For Work?

Since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party, it has been a question of "if" not "when" the coup attempt would come.

As Adam Boulton let us know:

"The first hope of the Blairites and Brownites appalled by Corbyn’s election was that all but a tiny rump of Labour’s 232 MPs would defect to a new party in such numbers that they would become the official opposition. Backers were prepared to put up millions of pounds for the new party, provisionally called the Progressive Democrats, which would have left the Labour Party behind with its debts."
Corbyn won 59.5% in a "one person, one vote" ballot. Thousands of people were denied a vote in the contest as part of a #LabourPurge to make sure that only those who backed Labour could take part.

The big problem for those in the Parliamentary Labour Party who could not accept this result (and remember, Labour MPs resisted letting anyone else have a say for most of Labour's history!) is that they can't really get rid of Corbyn. Not without destroying the Labour Party.

Since May, when Labour unexpectedly lost the general election, party membership has almost doubled. For some Labour MPs and "grandees" this is a disaster.

So, what was Corbyn's platform?

Democratise Labour. Grow the grassroots, make the party more like a social movement. Let members decide policy

Economic alternative to the Tories. Defend the reforms of the last Labour government like tax credits, but put forward proposals for a more sustainable economy.

Ethical foreign policy. Speak out against human rights abuses, promote peaceful conflict resolution as the first priority.

This is not really revolutionary stuff in terms of Labour's history. It is more moderate than the SDP splitters in terms of fiscal policy. So what's the problem?

The biggest threat to the British ruling class and its state is not the emphasis on opposing austerity or the modest social democratic reforms that both Corbyn and McDonnell are advocating.

No, the real threat to "national security" is that the economic model of tanks 'n' banks might be seriously opposed.

Trident. Spying. Foreign wars. 

Spending billions on weapons of mass destruction? Letting the spooks collect everyone's information?Bombing countries in alliance with the US?

These were supposed to be part of an assumed consensus.

And the mechanism for achieving these policy changes is a threat to "national security" - people in Britain are not supposed to decide the policies of the British state, it's banks or big corporations.

Mass movements are weapons of mass destruction - they are WMDs aimed at the top dogs and fat cats of the British establishment.

Plotting a coup against a Labour leader

The key thing to remember about the attempted coup is that it can only ever be that - an attempt.

Some of the plots are out in the open. For example, John McTernan's suggestion that Labour MPs simply depose Corbyn by getting behind a single candidate in time for the party conference.

Well, the conference came and went.

The issue is - who is Labour for? It was set up by trade unions and radical socialist groups who felt that the Liberals could not meet the interests of working people.

Some Labour MPs - and would-be MPs, ex-MPs, former special advisors, Lords, ex-Labour Lords - think Labour should be a vehicle for electing candidates who can then do what they like.

No matter what they have promised to party members who have worked to get them elected, or voters who have chosen them as Labour candidates for office, some Labour MPs think they should be allowed to run the show.

In short, some in Labour seem to think we should be the Liberal Democrats. A party that elects anti-Tory candidates - but a party which is willing to form governments of national unity at times of supposed national crisis.

But as the election result in Scotland showed, if you run as "One Nation Labour", the electorate might wonder which nation you are on about.

During the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, the "One Nation Labour" approach meant uniting with the British government of the Tories and Liberals against the Scottish government of the SNP.

The Scottish Labour Party was tainted by association with the Better Together campaign - "the Vow" made by Cameron, Clegg, and Miliband, to give Scotland greater powers was broken immediately after a majority of voters Scotland said "No" to independence.

In the midst of a referendum campaign which saw banks and big business threaten to wreck the Scottish economy if voters chose independence, Labour had been seen to side with the bosses.

And who was advising the Scottish Labour leader in the run up to the general election? Why, it was John McTernan.

Democracy in the Labour Party

In the old days, conference was viewed as the sovereign policy-making body of the Labour Party. This was dismissed as "resolutionary socialism" by those who buried it. But it served a purpose.

Richard Crossman, who served as a Labour minister in the 60s, observed that “to maintain the enthusiasm of party militants to do the organising work… a constitution was needed which apparently created a full party democracy while excluding these militants from power.”

In many of Labour's sister parties in other countries, the equivalent of the word "militant" is used to refer to an activist. So much of the anxiety about "the Militant" in the 1980s reflected not just the actions of that organisation, but of militants more generally - activists had too much power.

In the 1970s, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy had put forward a defence of the party's programme - which included measures for industrial democracy - and they provided a means of implementing it without MPs deciding to give in to ruling class pressure.

Faced with the choice of caving in to the City of London or breaking the investment strike by moving in to take democratic control of the financial sector, a Labour government chose to cave in.

Through the mechanism of an IMF loan, the Labour leadership - as in the 1930s - accepted an austerity programme designed to restructure the British economy for the benefit of capital-owners - at the expense of workers.

Faced with implementing Labour's programme for extended democracy or allowing the plutocrats in the banks and big corporations to go on running the economy, Labour's leadership chose to give in to anti-democratic pressure.

When the Labour Party conference in 1976 demanded a say over who led the Parliamentary Labour Party, they were told - you don't know enough. We know best.

Don't believe me? Here's what the a motion passed by a majority of Labour MPs in 1976 told the wider party:
"Members of the Parliamentary Labour Party are incomparably in the best position to know the qualities and the character of the candidates for leadership [...] there should be no change in the procedure for the election of the Leader of the Party" (quoted in Democracy in the Labour Party by Ken Coates, p.21)
Mandatory re-selection meant that at every election there had to be a choice of candidates, not a "back me or sack me" vote as happens in the Labour Party today.

When it was implemented, it did mean that MPs faced the pressure to vote according to the party's programme developed by conference and the party's manifesto which had served the basis for the election of candidates under the red flag of Labour.

Stop the #LabourPurge

Corbyn got on the ballot for Labour leader by accident. The declared candidates did not have the ideas and attitude which could win over the people that the party relies on to leaflet, canvass, and get out the vote.

The other candidates, though well-meaning, were unable to escape their origins - they owed their positions in the Parliamentary Labour Party to the patronage of the Blairite and Brownite wings of the dominant New Labour faction.

When he got on the ballot, it was a nightmare for those who have sought top-down stitch-ups and dirty deals with Britain's ruling class over open debate and collective decision-making in the party.

They knew that his presence would change the terms of the debate. He would not remain silent on party democracy, corporate power, or disastrous wars.

They did not believe he would win. The election system they had advocated - one member, one vote - meant that the power of MPs was equal to that of someone who is only supposed to deliver the bloody leaflets, not decide what goes on the leaflet.

It must have become obvious pretty quickly that there was no appetite for a relaunch of the SDP. The same players are there - Lord Sainsbury, for example. But the lesson has been learnt.

Under the electoral system which exists in England, and which the Tories aren't minded to change, it is not possible for a break-through challenge to Labour.

So the immediate targets have been those around Corbyn. Andrew Fisher and other Labour activists who had backed his leadership campaign....